In occupied Germany, the Allies followed the Morgenthau plan to remove all German war potential by complete or partial pastoralization. As part of this, in the Industrial plans for Germany, the rules for which industry Germany was to be allowed to retain were set out. German car production was set at a maximum of 10% of the 1936 car production numbers.
The Volkswagen factory at Wolfsburg was handed over by the Americans to British control in 1945, it was to be dismantled and shipped to Britain. Thankfully for Volkswagen, no British car manufacturer was interested in the factory; “the vehicle does not meet the fundamental technical requirement of a motor-car … it is quite unattractive to the average buyer … To build the car commercially would be a completely uneconomic enterprise.” The factory survived by producing cars for the British Army instead. Allied dismantling policy changed in late 1946 to mid 1947, although heavy industry continued to be dismantled until 1951. In March 1947 Herbert Hoover helped change policy by stating
“There is the illusion that the New Germany left after the annexations can be reduced to a ‘pastoral state’. It cannot be done unless we exterminate or move 25,000,000 people out of it.”
The re-opening of the factory is largely accredited to British Army officer Major Ivan Hirst (1916–2000). Hirst was ordered to take control of the heavily bombed factory, which the Americans had captured. His first task was to remove an unexploded bomb which had fallen through the roof and lodged itself between some pieces of irreplaceable production equipment; if the bomb had exploded, the Beetle’s fate would have been sealed. Hirst persuaded the British military to order 20,000 of the cars, and by 1946 the factory was producing 1,000 cars a month. During this period the car and its town changed their Nazi-era names to Volkswagen (people’s car) and Wolfsburg, respectively. The first 1,785 Beetles were made in a factory near Wolfsburg in 1945.
Following the Army-led restart of production, Heinz Nordhoff was appointed director of the Volkswagen factory, under whom production increased dramatically over the following decade, with the one-millionth car coming off the assembly line by 1955. During this Post-war period, the Beetle had superior performance in its category with a top speed of 115 km/h (71 mph) and 0-100 km/h (0-60 mph) in 27.5 seconds on 7.6 l/100 km (31mpg) for the standard 25 kilowatts (34 hp) engine. This was far superior to the Citroën 2CV and Morris Minor, and even competitive with more modern small cars like the Mini of the 1960s and later.
The engine fired up immediately without a choke, and could only be heard in the car when idling. It had excellent road-handling and was economical to maintain. Although a small car, the engine has great elasticity and gave the feeling of better output than its small nominal size. However, the opinion of people in the United States was not as flattering due to the characteristic differences between the American car market and European car market at the time. Henry Ford II once described the car as ‘A little box’.
During the 1950s, the car was modified progressively: the obvious visual changes mostly concerned the windows. In March 1953, the small oval two piece rear window was replaced by a slightly larger single piece oval rear window. More dramatically, in August 1957 a much larger full width rear window replaced the oval one. 1962 saw the introduction of a widened cover for the light over the rear licence plate. Towards the end of 1964, the height of the side windows and windscreen was slightly increased giving the cabin a less pinched look: this coincided with a the introduction of a very slightly curved windscreen, though the curve was barely noticeable. The same body appeared during 1966, with a 1300 cc engine on place of the 1200 cc engine: it was only in the 1973 model Super Beetle that the beetle acquired an obviously curved windscreen. The flat windshield remained on the standard beetle.
During the 1960s and early 1970s, innovative advertising campaigns and a reputation for reliability and sturdiness helped production figures to surpass the levels of the previous record holder, the Ford Model T, when Beetle No. 15,007,034 was produced on 17 February 1972. By 1973, total production was over 16 million, and by 23 June 1992, there had been over 21 million produced.
The Beetle is the world’s best-selling car design; though more units of the Toyota Corolla brand have been sold, there have been many total redesigns of the Corolla, each amounting to a new car design with the same name.